I was fourteen when I first heard of the “F” word. I was walking down the street to a friend’s house when a man standing by the corner suddenly said it to my face. This happened in the UK where I was taking up an English course. I did not know what the word meant, but by his facial expression I knew that it was nothing good. At this time, I was just starting to learn English, and the word did not appear in the textbooks. I learned later that day what it when I talked to an English friend about it, and it made me so upset. I did not deserve such a spiteful word especially from someone I have not done anything wrong to. Yet I must admit that this negative experience was not the only reason I have for learning English.
Based on my bad encounter with an English stranger, I believe that English should be globalized. The language is no longer exclusive for the white or those who have money to roam the world. English is for everyone, and should serve as an instrument for comprehension and cooperation of all races. I wanted to get rid of my accent and be able to speak English the English way. I was ashamed of how I sounded; it made me feel like I did not belong. I wanted to own English, and I thought that the only way to do it was to not sound like me.
After I read Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue,” I realized I was wrong. I should not be embarrassed of myself for thinking that way about my native tongue. I suppose this was exactly the writer’s purpose for writing the text – to enlighten everyone to the point that native accents are only a reflection of where someone came from, of the place they first saw the light of the sun, of where someone’s character founded from. Hence, there is no reason the native tongue should be just thrown away. The text responds to situations where there is discrimination and stereotyping based on ethnicity. This paper seeks to prove that telling true-to-life stories is one of the best ways to convey an important message to the audience. It provides details about the writer, and an analysis of her audience, arguments, and methods of rhetoric.
The writer of the text is Amy Tan. She was born in California of Chinese immigrant parents. Tan is not an English scholar, but she writes English novels and has always loved the language (Academy of Achievement, “Amy Tan Biography”). Her most popular work was the “Joy Luck Club”, which centers on a mother-daughter conflict. When she was still attending school, Tan showed determination to elude general expectation of Asian students by changing her major to English (Tan 7). She also decided to become a freelance writer despite discouragement from her boss that she was not competent. Tan received her graduate degrees in English and Linguistics at San Jose State University, and studied for a doctorate in Linguistics at Berkeley before she accepted a language development consultancy position at the Alameda County Association for Retarded Citizens and managed a training program for developmentally disabled children (Academy of Achievement, “Amy Tan Biography”).
It has never been easy for Tan to establish her credibility in the field of English. Because she does not look American at all, she has received taunting from the other kids at school, and was stereotyped by teachers. She was even underrated for her potential to become an English writer. Tan pursued to convince the people around her that ethnicity had nothing to do with what is inside her, of what she is capable of. She defied the usual by excelling in English instead of focusing on Math and Science like most other Asian did (Tan 7). She wrote English novels and become a best-selling author. From Tan’s achievement of making a name for herself in the literary world, she inevitably managed to earn a right to use ethos because as already mentioned, ‘Amy Tan’ is already a credible name. She used this to her advantage and described the nature of her work to her readers.
Tan’s attitude toward the subject of native tongue however is a mix of regret and anticipation. There was regret because of her prior relationship with her mother, of how she indirectly underestimated her mother’s intelligence by speaking in her behalf even when not asked to do so. Like me, Tan also thought that her mother’s native accent of obliterated the meaning of what she had got to say. And then there was anticipation that after reading the text, more people will start to respect diversity. Tan hoped that her writing could help the world realize that neither the language nor the mother tongue is enough of a reason to discriminate anyone. This of course is using pathos or emotional cues because as she recalls her past, the readers are also reminded of certain memories in their own past and are able to connect to the writing because they believe that Tan understands how they feel.
The primary audience includes people who came from a non-English background and who aspire to engage in English-related careers such as writing, teaching, or consulting but feel dispirited by their limited English and the stereotyping of the society. The text is also especially dedicated to her mother, since Tan mentioned in the text that “she knew she had succeeded in where it counted when her mother finished reading her book and told her that it was so easy to read (Tan 8).” Moreover, the text is intended to convince schools and educators to support their students in pursuing courses that they objectively believe their students will excel on. The same goes to those whose daily life involved dealing with people from different ethnicities – that they should learn to accept that each person is unique, and that the language is never a measure of character and intellect. This again uses pathos since it targets people who are uncertain of pursuing their dreams and goals because of the judgment of people around them. The encouragement Tan gives is providing emotional support. Even the fact that the writing is partly for Tan’s mother is a manifestation of pathos.
Secondary audience consist of those who love the works of Amy Tan, and who would like to know her further by reading her life story and other texts. Also courted as secondary readers are those who are inspired by her life and success, and who need to learn about how she became an English novelist despite being born of Chinese parents who do not speak fluent English. These are people who Tan did not intend to influence by this text, but are compelled to read her writings because of her influence in them. By the mere fact that the secondary audience reads Tan’s work because of her previous writings, this means that the audience believes that Amy Tan is credible which means the rhetorical tool used is ethos.
According to the text, people unconsciously speak different languages, which are used by others as basis for judging intellect. Tan believed that her mother’s English “reflected the quality of what she had to say (8).” Hence, with the intention of saving her mother and herself from the embarrassment, Tan made it a habit to stand in her mother’s place when talking to people in department stores, banks, hospitals, and restaurants. She realized later on that broken English did not necessarily make her mother less intelligent. Tan supported this argument by telling about the way her mother advised her and her husband to “not waste money that way (7).” The writer also told about how her teachers insisted that a course in English was not a good choice for someone like her; that she was not American enough to become proficient in the language. But while Tan has never considered herself an expert, she proved everybody else wrong, by becoming one of most admired English writers of today.
Tan began to “write stories using all the Englishes she grew up with (396).” It was while delivering a talk about her book “The Joy Luck Club” that Tan noticed she was speaking in a language she has not used with her mother before. It was in fact her prejudice of her mother’s tongue that motivated her to become a writer, and made her understand that it was not right to undermine people who do not talk the same language that you do. This was another argument that Tan was able to present in the text. Just because one does not sound like you do, it does not already indicate that the person is inferior to you. Similarly, being able to speak English fluently does not necessarily make one more of a person than others. This again uses the rhetorical tool pathos since Tan engaged the audience through her sentiment she had of her mother.
The text is a personal narrative since it mostly talks about the true-to-life-experience of author. However, it is also argumentative in the sense that it attempts to make the audience believe in an idea which not everyone accepts as right. The concept of racial equality has not yet come to a point of being universally practiced. But yes, I agree that the text is effective in communicating the main point to the audience. I do not think the author needed to cite other scholarly works to prove her stand. While her message is not new, her use of personal anecdotes makes it appear like it is something the people have not heard of before.
In the text, Amy Tan conveys three methods of rhetoric: ethos, logos, and pathos. For ethos, the writer provides a description of her profession, which establishes her credibility as a writer. For logos, she tells how her mother proved that she perfectly knows what she is talking about even when her English does not sound very good. Hence, people like her should be treated as if they were unintelligent. Lastly, pathos is demonstrated as she talks about how her mother struggled with broken English. It draws sympathy from the audience, and brings a realization that people who do not speak good English should not be discriminated against.
Academy of Achievement. “Amy Tan Biography.” 1996. Web. 28 January 2014.
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” The Threepenny Review 43 (Autumn, 1990): 7-8. Web. 28 January 2014.